Ana Pina
20th February, 2013


Installing By This Unwinking Night, 2012, Latrobe Regional Gallery

And for today’s interview I bring you a creative duo with an eclectic body of work and an exquisite sense of humor: Gracia & Louise. They are two Australian artists that collaborate frequently, sharing their creativity and love for paper as an artistic media. They create zines, artists’ books, unexpected compositions and collages where the influence of vintage and the animal world meet. Discover them, it’s worth it!

Tell us...
Who are Gracia and Louise?
We can be described as two artists who often work collaboratively. We make artists’ books and other works on paper, and have been busy at this since 1999. Melbourne-based, we work from home, in any room of the house that suits purpose, and we are besotted with paper for its foldable, concealable, revealing nature. In our work, we like to play with the idea of things not always being as they first appear. Our artists’ books and other works on paper, from collages, prints, drawings, and zines, are in the collections of the State Libraries of N.S.W., Queensland, and Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia, Tate (UK), and others.

Gracia is High Up in the Trees
Louise is Elsewhere
And together we are Gracia & Louise

Have you become what you wanted to be when you grew up? What inspires you to create?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. Yes, we are both working full time on our artwork (supported also by freelance graphic design work, and teaching students to paint through Open Universities Australia at RMIT university). This is a wonderful position to be in, one both of us have aspired to since little and one we’ve actively taken steps towards. But there is so much we want to do. So many works to make and to find the means to make. We would love one day to be in the position to publish a book of our artwork. “Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea,” said Iris Murdoch, and this sums up this feeling of still reaching, still going, still polishing and perfecting, still trying to make the work one sees clearly in the mind’s eye. Whilst we’ve still ideas and interest, we’ll keep going, trying to make that work you are happy with, though deep down its completion is unlikely. This is what inspires us to keep climbing up the mountain, and we are not ready to begin the descent.

Share with us...
Your artistic media of choice.
Paper for its brilliant diversity and abundance, from beautiful new sheets of hot-pressed paper to draw on and bind into book format to found papers and books to modify. Along with having a natural affinity with paper, it is also something that is relatively small and easy to store. There is, for example, nothing to stop you making a series of postcard collages on the lounge room floor. It requires little space. There is no excuse not to draw in a sketchbook. There is also, depending on your taste, little financial outlay. You can always find paper to draw on and art supply stores sometimes have great sales.

The favourite corner of your workspace.
No favourite corner for it does not matter where you work. You don’t really notice your surrounds when working as, like blinkers on a horse, the work is the sole focus. It does not matter that there are dishes in the sink and clothes to wash for once you start on those tasks, the day is all but gone. You can be doubled over in curious pose as you glue piece after piece in a collage, your body’s comfort deemed irrelevant for the moment. But there are a few requirements, like a good light source so as to see what you are doing. And the company of sleeping pets sure helps the atmosphere. Finally, if the noisy neighbour is crashing about and breaking his furniture with an axe*, a little classical music as a sound buffer helps.

A day at work.
This is always varied. We are fond of early starts. In the early morning, working before other tasks crash into the picture is preferable, and whilst ideas feel within hand’s grasp.

A business tip.
Advice both received and followed: love what it is you do and keep going, no matter the obstacle. Focus on turning shortcomings into something else; flexibility and resourcefulness are indispensable tools. Yes, just the usual stuff to keep one coasting along, really.

An advice to your younger you, and future plans.
The answer to the above is perhaps what we’d whisper to our younger selves though it is probably something we’d dismiss with a shoulder shrug, and to focus on turning a mistake into something other is perhaps what the future holds. There is nothing that cannot be salvaged and transformed later if you are happy to keep altering your intentions. So, we’ll keep climbing the mountain for now, making new works and dreaming large.

Let us know…
A personality that influences you.
These questions seem to be getting harder, the further we progress. Shades of a certain hobbit’s adventures are drawn. One personality? It’s probably wise to point out to you at this stage that editing is not something that comes easily to either of us, and minimalism is not our hallmark. We gather influence from a wide range, knowingly and otherwise. We keep, we collect, we hoard. We store, we mull, we squirrel. We are influenced by things we have seen and read. By things ordinary and peculiar. By things darkly beautiful, and other things so light, so fleeting, they need to be tethered lest they float away. And we are supported by the love and interest of our loved ones near and dear, our family and friends.

A book you think everyone should read.
Everyone should read more. Any book, new or classic, long or short. We’d like to see reading seen less as a leisure pursuit, something people say they do not have time for. Today, a combined list of recent reads we’ve loved (though others may not) would include something by Patrick Hamilton, Charles Dickens, Tove Jansson, Thomas Hardy, and something published by Little Toller Books for bringing the natural world indoors to the armchair reader-cum-explorer.

An unforgettable movie.
To pick only one, even if we each answered and together that made two, why, this is impossible. One brilliantly unforgettable film? There are so many, too many. Given that we have recently watched The Story of Film: An Odyssey, (an eight-part, 15-hour series) learning and in awe of film from 1895 roots to present day, this is not something we can narrow down no matter how hard we try this morning. But this we can say, we are looking forward to this year’s film festival. To that stretch of days in winter when 50+ films are seen, sometimes four stacked one atop the other in a single day. A quick look back through August 2012’s archives, and there are all the films seen and loved. Roll on, MIFF 2013, we’re ready.

A city to fall in love with.
By now, you will have sensed a pattern. You know there is no one city we can answer. All have their charms, some more than others, and all have their shortcomings too. Time away is wonderful. Perhaps we will leave it at the city best to fall in love with is either the one you are in or the one you travel to next.

A favourite food and drink.
Lest we sound too unsure of our footing, too unable to make a choice, like two who dither day and night save for when it comes to collaging or drawing and limiting visual overload, we will answer in unison: coffee. By far the favourite drink for us both. It is a little after 9am as we prepare this for you and already we’ve had two strong coffees and a third is not all that far off. As to food, anything home-cooked is best. When you can be liberal with spice and all is well and relaxed. It is these meals that we remember most.

A guilty pleasure.
None that we feel a sense of guilt spring to mind, really. Perhaps, at a stretch, frittering away time could fall under this banner. Scratch that, good ideas can sometimes appear when one lolls about and we are terrific at pottering.

* Since penning our reply, said Noisy Neighbour has moved out, moved on. At last! Hurrah! After three long years and one month and fourteen days, all is now tranquil. We are painting the kitchen afresh in celebration of a nest that now feels larger and more peaceful. Swish, swish, swish, go the brushes. Quietly, quietly, softly tread. Shh. Hush. Lest we become the noisy ones.

Ana Pina's {The Interview Series} is published on Wednesdays, featuring inspiring artists and bloggers I admire, according to the spirit of handmade and a creative lifestyle.


In conversation with Ana
Ana Pina
Porto, Portugal




28th June, 2013


Gracia Haby, 2012, collage commissioned for The World of Interiors to accompany an article by Edmund de Waal, Time on his Hands, about his recent ceramic installation

Chloe, a visual communication design student, sent a series of questions to us.

This was our reply:

Q: How did you get to where you are now? Did you undertake any specialist training or take specific courses?
Practice and perseverance, obvious though that sounds. Working at what you love everyday and sticking to working at what you love everyday is the only way. There are no shortcuts, just plenty of risks to take, hard work, and long hours. You need to have a thick skin in order to keep going in the face of rejection, setbacks, perceived time constraints, disinterest, and financial hiccups. And you need to have a thin skin, too, in order to see and feel and then be able to pour said emotion into your work. A balance between this rawness and pluck in the face of adversity is a tricky balance.

We both studied at RMIT (Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts, majoring in Painting, 1994–97), and a short intensive bookbinding course at a specialist school in Ascona, Switzerland (in 2002). Along the way, we have also been able to work with printers, such as Bernie Rackham at Redwood Prints, and this has proven invaluable too.

Q: How do you choose clients/briefs? What kind of relationship do you build with your clients?
Most of our design work has been working for other artists designing catalogues for their exhibitions or building websites and/or blogs. These are jobs we pick up largely through word-of-mouth, and we enjoy making the focus of the design the person’s artwork. We also work for RMIT School of Art Gallery and Project Space/Spare Room. In addition to this, we have created artworks for The Big Issue and The World of Interiors. In both cases, these publications have approached us to see if we would be open to and available for a commission. In both cases our response has always been to cartwheel about the room and type back a speedy: YES! Thank-you!

Q: Do you undertake any research about the client of the brief?
Working for other artists they naturally have a clear idea of what they want from a catalogue or what they want their new site to communicate. It is a matter of listening to what they want and translating it directly, to the best of our ability. We fell into this type of design work through working on our own catalogues for various exhibitions over the years.

The same, too, applies to websites and blogs built. We taught ourselves how to do both because there was no other way. Resourcefulness always goes a long way! We built our website in 2002 using Dreamweaver and a series of nested tables. Over the years, we have redesigned it and added to it, ensuring it was a correct archive of that which we’d made. Its current appearance is new as of this year. Built on an online platform, it is home to all our projects from artists’ books and zines to exhibitions and related projects. There would have been no other way for us to have a website had we not built it ourselves. We took a one hour tutorial through Mac Advice to understand what a site was, purchased the then-required software and plunged in from there. The same, too, applies to printed work undertaken in the days when SyQuests were high tech.

In regards to artworks commissioned by The World of Interiors and The Big Issue, our imagery is to illustrate something very specific and so, here, we undertake a fair amount of research in order to hit the spot. Nothing comes without practice. Even if something seems to come from rough instinct, there is usually a fair amount of research and crafting that has taken place behind-the-scenes or in the subconscious.

Q: How do you go about brainstorming ideas for briefs and where do you get your inspiration from?
Everything can serve as inspiration. Colours seen in film (think: the beauty of the limited palette of an Aki Kaurismäki film with its saturated blues and greens with accents of red and yellow), in nature, on the scarf of the person who passes you on the street. Ideas could come from dance, from music, from a line of text read, from a splinter of a conversation overheard. Ideas can woo from the sidelines whilst you wash the dishes, or in the haze of morning before you are fully awake. Where you get your inspiration from can be anywhere. It can be direct or indirect. Given that where you find it can be so varied, it is what you then do with the idea that interests us. The act of seizing upon an idea and trying to execute it is our interest. Iris Murdoch spoke of every novel being the wreck of a perfect idea, and this is something that governs us as we work.

Q: Is there anyone you look to for help or inspiration, like a mentor? If so, how do they aide you in your design process?
In terms of the ‘design’ of our artists’ books, we follow our hearts, our gut, our mind. It is all very bodily. We listen to our own instincts and the work is the main focus, not whether it will be ‘well received’. What happens to the work afterwards — will it be purchased or collected — this comes after the process of making. If you let those concerns sit on your shoulder at the time of making, the arm would not be able to move freely. The same applies to the written responses for Fjord Review about dance performances seen. If you let the worries of ‘what will I write?’ intrude during the performance you would ‘see’ nothing. You need to try to push those doubts and fears aside as you work. Then, when it comes to polishing the piece, you let them back in.

With catalogue designs for other people, this is not the case and one needs a cool head. With collages such as those for The World of Interiors, one looks for interesting or subtle ways to add in, for example, a ziggurat of clay balls as per the author’s request.

Q: What general constraints do you encounter when working on a brief?
Not being full time designers, design is but one of the pies we have a finger in. Thus far, we approach design as outsiders. We are not interested in current trends, we just try to make the work the focus, be it someone’s beautiful abstract paintings or series of recent delicate works on paper. When we design for others, we just want the person who we are working for to be pleased with the outcome, for the result to be what they were after. When creating for publications, perhaps the hardest part for us is finding a balance between making too literal a translation (of the material we’ve been provided with) and too abstract a response. It needs to both convey the material we are ‘drawing’ and still be ‘us’, our response to the material. A dance in which you have to make up your own choreography.

Other examples of this curious dance include Dear Dad, for Australian Poetry, in which our work needed to convey the theme but not be too obvious.

Q: What kinds of techniques/processes do you use for the final product?
Everything! Anything! As long as it takes! (But always meet a deadline.)

Q: What are your favourite techniques/processes to use? Where did you find out about them/learn them from?
All. Happy working digitally or with brush, pencil, pair of scissors…

Q: How do you motivate yourself to carry out tasks you don’t particularly enjoy?
In anything you do there is always a part of the process less enjoyable; you just need to alter your approach to it or way of thinking about it. Perhaps what drives us is also a sense that one day it may all disappear. This makes us hungry to seize every moment/chance/opportunity.

Q: How do you evaluate the success of the final design?
In regards to our artwork, we always see things we want to do next time and are thinking about how to make that come about. In regards to design work for other people, if they are happy that is a good feeling, a success. What else would the point be if they were not happy? Seeing our work in print is a beautiful feeling; we feel very fortunate.